Readers of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will recognise the idea of the Babel fish – one device (or fish) that sits in the ear of a listener and instantly translates any language into your mother tongue. Google is not quite there yet, but it is perfectly reasonable to see that as the logical end of the road the company has embarked upon. Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, demonstrated the experimental technology at the IFA electronics fair in Berlin in September (using German rather than Spanish). He estimates that in a year to 18 months, the process will be instantaneous.